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Soma Union: A Post-Release Look Back

  • Sgt M
  • 01/02/2022 04:30 PM
Hey all!

It looks like 2022 is here and if you’re not tired of reading everyone else’s 2021 retrospectives at this point, here’s another one for the pile! Or possibly your backlog. Either way, 2021 proved to be a fruitful year for developing games, with the release of Soma Union happening this past August. Hard to believe that it has been more than a third of a year already!

Today I wanted to look back at this two year project and look at the very many aspects of its release. From what went well, to what didn’t go so well, and some of the takeaways I learned from this follow-up to Soma Spirits.

Soma Union’s Development

Not long after the release of the original Soma Spirits game in 2016/2017, the second game I developed along with composer Agent Ape after Brave Hero Yuusha, I jumped right back into working out the details of a new project that would eventually become Crescent Prism. Sadly, a multitude of problems would hinder Crescent Prism’s development over the next two years, which led to me shelving the project in 2018 to work on the remastered version of Brave Hero Yuusha, and ultimately canceling the project and releasing what I had of Crescent Prism as a Chapter 1 standalone release a year later.

Throughout that time, nothing really came close to the reception that Soma Spirits enjoyed, being nominated and winning several categories for RPGMaker.net’s Misao awards, including Game of the Year, and even found some success on Youtube as it was covered by prominent Youtuber StephenGeorg/StephenPlays. It was pretty clear that Soma Spirits was our most successful game. And after Crescent Prism’s cancellation I found myself with a lot of unused assets as well as a longing to cover some of the things in the Soma Spirits lore that I wasn’t able to cover the first time. Soma Union soon began development in mid-2019 to serve as both a sequel and a prequel to the first game.

But I decided this time that I wanted to approach things differently to avoid what I experienced with Crescent Prism’s development.

Re-Assessing Game Development

I could write paragraphs about my experience with commercial game development. In fact, I did write paragraphs before I deleted them all and wrote this one instead. The short version is that commercial development just didn’t work out for me and I don’t really have any desire to hit the big time anymore. As encouraging as it was that people were hoping Soma Spirits would be the next big RPG Maker game, it didn’t quite live up to that expectation. After several years of deep steam discounts, price cuts, and having games only ever selling for fifty cents, I just wanted to be a hobbyist again. And that is essentially how I went into Soma Union from the start: making a game for the sake of making a game, one free of the chains and Catch 22s of mass appeal.

Soma Union ended up being a free sequel: a decision I made right from the start and something I still get asked about a lot and explaining why never gets any easier. But it was also a game from the heart, and told a very different tale from the first game. It expanded on many of what I felt were Soma Spirits’ strongest elements, while also omitting some of the elements that defined it, such as the two-world mechanic or the branching story paths. For a long time I worried these radical changes wouldn’t set well with people but the only one who has criticized them so far is myself so perhaps I worried too much!

For what I think the game set out to do, I feel like I did a lot of things well, and others not so much.

What Went Well

To me, one of Soma Union’s biggest successes with the overall feeling of “completeness” in its writing. There were many aspects to its story that I had to carefully weave around the existing story of Soma Spirits and I think I wrote it well enough that it’s not completely necessary to play Spirits first. Some of my favorite story elements included expanding on the Sun King as an actual character, and exploring the dynamics between him and characters that existed in Soma Spirits. It’s a story that I can look back on and feel accomplished about.

In terms of gameplay, I feel like I did a lot of things right. Allowing players to change roles their characters roles on the fly instead of having them location-locked led to some pretty interesting strategies and seeing different players tackle boss fights in different ways was very interesting. Someone even went so far as to complete the game without gaining a single level! Watching people do challenge runs is really amazing.

And Soma Union did find a bit of an audience: the game has surpassed 1,000 downloads across all platforms and just managed to edge over the critical 10 Steam review threshold recently. It also found an audience for content creation: There is at least one full Let’s Play of the game, and even an amazing THREE HOUR video essay breaking down the game! It’s a great feeling that the people who play these games continue to be so dedicated to them.

Plus at the time of this writing, the game has been nominated for three categories in the RMN Misao awards: Summoner of Sounds, Excellence in Narrative, and Game of the Year! Let’s check back in in a month and see how we did.

What Didn't Go Well

One of the biggest challenges about making a sequel is that, well, it’s a sequel. Which means that you have to be careful about marketing the game as, depending on what you share, you might accidentally make it too easy for players of the first game to speculate based on existing lore. Accidentally spoiling things can render a whole sequel moot. So I had to keep my cards closer to my chest for this one.

But one of the difficulties I faced is that Soma Union is an obscure sequel to an already obscure game, making it even more difficult to market. This also factored in to Soma Union having a very limited audience. Even though the game was written so that you don’t necessarily have to play the first entry, some felt compelled to do so anyway to get the complete story. Which, I don’t know if you’ve looked at Soma Spirits recently, but that game is looking pretty rough nowadays compared to Union. So I don’t blame people for trying to play Soma Spirits but the old jankiness of it ended up being too rough. Soma Union did find some players who didn’t play the first game, but as far as I know, it hasn’t been too many.

Soma Union has yet to reach the heights that Soma Spirits did. Some of that comes with its sequel status, but it was also a very difficult game to pitch to content creators especially: it’s an RPG Maker game that falls well outside of the criteria that makes it appealing to most youtubers. It’s, linear, narrative-heavy, and isn’t a horror game. I still fear that the game simply isn’t content creator friendly. (To those who have covered the game: You have most utmost respect and thanks!)

Back to my point about being difficult to market: This is especially troublesome in the modern age where marketing your indie game while it’s still in development, no matter how mundane the update is for any particular weekend, is absolutely key. So not being able to reveal too much was a detriment, though I also feel like it was a personal failing for not finding the right way to market it with that in mind. But then again, I’ve never wanted to market these games in a way that just make your social media numbers go up. The things you make deserve dignity.

Also my dungeon design is getting worse lol.

So What's Next?

Well, I’ve certainly been doing this for a while now. Maybe not as long as some of RPG Maker’s greatest veterans, but my life has changed a lot in the ten years that I’ve been doing this. I’ve been working a full time job for the last four years and if I hadn’t been home for several months in 2020 during the start of the pandemic, I’m not even sure completing Soma Union would have been possible. Making games of this scale has been immensely satisfying, but it’s also getting harder to make them as I get older. While I think any possibility of me making it beyond the hobbyist level has long passed (I’ll leave that to the younger, fresh talent in the RM community) I’ve been trying to find ways to keep the spark going with the limited amount of time I have to dedicate to it.

Right now, I’m helping out Agent Ape with Epilogue Adventures, a pseudo-sequel to Brave Hero Yuusha that will have a lot of fun things that you haven’t seen in our other games. It ‘s been a lot of fun working on something with someone else’s design philosophies and I think it will be refreshingly different from the more narrative-based games we’ve done so far.

As for my own projects?

Well, I’ve been prototyping something for the past month or so. It’s still very early on and, if I decide to commit to this as an actual project, I won’t be able to show much of it possibly for many months to come. It will be quite different from anything I’ve done before. But I have a solid idea of what I want it to be, and here’s a few details I can share:

- It’s being developed in RPG Maker MZ.
- There will be less emphasis on story and more on gameplay.
- It’s closer to Brave Hero Yuusha than it is to Soma Spirits (but is related to neither)
- It’s doing a lot of things I haven’t done before and is way out of my comfort zone, so I hope it’s good!
- It will be a smaller project than Soma Union.

That’s all I can really share for now! I hope you’ll look forward to when I’m able to show it off, and I appreciate everyone’s patience in the meantime.

Let's Have a Good 2022!

So I guess that’s the good and the not-quite-as-good of Soma Union, but at the end of the day I’m glad we were able to make this two year project a reality. If you enjoyed the game, thank you for giving it a try! And if you’re still thinking about giving it a go, I hope you’ll play it and let me know what you think of it.

Until next time!

-Sgt M


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You're magical to me.
This was a really good read! :DDD Games always have a lot of hurdles, and it feels like sequels add a lot of additional headaches, so seeing how you handled the situation has been very illuminating!

I think Soma Union is your best game yet and I feel like your dungeon design is still pretty solid, as the pace and feel of the dungeon still feels pretty great. Really excited to hear that you're working on prototyping something new, can't wait to find out what it is! ^_^
It’s pretty cool to see you’re sticking with RPG Maker, I know you were considering other engines.

Thanks for the write up, it seems like you went through a lot of thought and introspection on your game dev journey and you learned a great deal.

I’m inspired by your work and reading journey helps me to eventually get my stuff out of my hard drive and eventually into a more public space lol
Sir Redd of Novus: He who made Prayer of the Faithless that one time, and that was pretty dang rad! :D
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the development journey! It's a rough trek even for the hobbyist mindset, nevermind a commercial one, so congratulations on reaching the end!

I definitely understand and respect the choice to downscale and focus on smaller projects. Good luck with your future endeavors!
Thanks for being so open and sharing all of this. It was a great read :)

Do you actively reach out to Youtuber's to cover your games, or do they find them organically?

Huge congrats on the 3 hour video essay of your work. That's now my new goal as a game developer.
Super informative write up! Grats on releasing in 2021 too.

Pertaining to the sequel dilemma and without paying much attention: I actually thought this was Soma Spirits being remade. I guess there was a Soma Spirits revise that I mistook it for + similar names, but it does speak to the difficulty of marketing. Aside from Spirits' dual world/character concept it's a bit hard to distinguish the big hooks from the title/cover at a glance. Like I know that Mario Sunshine is the Mario game with the water jetpack and Galaxy is the space one for example. I don't think it comes down to just exposure pushing but also just how well you highlight certain aspects when obtaining attention.
Thank you for the comments, everyone! I'm glad the write-up was insightful.

Do you actively reach out to Youtuber's to cover your games, or do they find them organically?

I did a good bit of reaching out early on, particularly with Soma Spirits and Brave Hero Yuusha's commercial versions. I did get a few bites, including the aforementioned StephenGeorg video as well as a few others. Most of the content around the game ended up being organic, including the 3 hour essay and numerous partial playthroughs of Soma Spirits. I'm glad that the games have had enough appeal to have organic content, and it's something I never take for granted lol.

EDIT: I should mention for clarity's sake that these commercial versions has since been converted to free downloads. Once that happened, they started moving a bit more.

For Soma Union, I didn't do quite as much of this since it was such a difficult game to pitch to people, especially with it being a sequel. Probably the biggest marketing push that the game had was being featured on the 2021 Mother Fan Direct, which helped out quite a bit!

Pertaining to the sequel dilemma and without paying much attention: I actually thought this was Soma Spirits being remade. I guess there was a Soma Spirits revise that I mistook it for + similar names, but it does speak to the difficulty of marketing.

I can definitely see how this can be confusing. Actually, one of the reasons I didn't want to call the game "Soma Spirits 2" was because I thought people would feel even more like they had to have played the first game to enjoy the second.

To clear things up about the order of things:

Soma Spirits - The first game.
Soma Spirits: Rebalance - Definitive version of Soma Spirits.
Soma Union - The second game.
High-quality post. I am yet to play Union but it's sitting there on my backlog and I am very much looking forward to it.

Would love to see a Soma platformer made in something like GB Studio someday, but maybe that's something I can help with down the track since I'm learning the engine. ;)
Would love to see a Soma platformer made in something like GB Studio someday

I'd love to make a not-an-RPG Soma Spirits spinoff or mini side game one day. Just something fun and simple lol. Especially since I don't imagine I'll make a third mainline game: I think I've told the story I want to tell and I'm satisfied with how they work as a duology.

But side games can be a lot of fun.
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